Ball State Football (5-5, 3-3 MAC) fell short to Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1 MAC) in a battle for the Bronze Stalk Trophy. The Huskies 30-29 win eliminated the Cardinals from contention in the Mid-American Conference Championship game. With two games remaining for Ball State, there is still a bowl game to play for.
Here are three takeaways from Ball State's loss:
Receivers make plays
Despite losing, Ball State had success with three players receiving for over 25 yards, while fifth-year senior receiver Justin Hall led Ball State with 129 all-purpose yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Junior wide receiver Jayshon Jackson had three receptions for 34 yards and a receiving touchdown. Jackson has three receiving touchdowns on the season.
Despite the receivers contributing head coach Mike Neu said the offense could have taken advantage of more opportunities.
"In the first half, we had missed opportunities and left plays out on the field that would've resulted in points, and probably touchdowns," Neu said. "But we didn't make those plays when we needed them. That's the hard part to swallow. We did a good job early creating turnovers, but we just didn't capitalize when we had some early momentum in the game."
Late game mistakes
After sophomore kicker Jacob Lewis made a field goal to give Ball State a 29-27 lead with 1:42 in the game, it was up to the Cardinals' defense to make a final stop to win the game.
Northern Illinois' offense kept pushing down the field and hitting receivers on the outside and throwing check-downs. When the Cardinals had hope, graduate outside linebacker Anthony Ekpe was offsides to give the Huskies a first down. A few plays later, redshirt senior inside linebacker Brandon Martin committed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty to ultimately put Northern Illinois in field goal range.
The Huskies made a 38-yard field goal to win the game giving them a two-game lead in the MAC East division.
Still more to play for
Despite an emotional loss for the Cardinals, if they win the final two games against Central Michigan and Buffalo, Ball State will be eligible to play in a bowl game.
Last season, Ball State won its first bowl game in school history, defeating San Jose State in the Arizona Bowl. Neu said while the loss is difficult, the Cardinals need to fight and stick together.
"We've got bowl eligibility still lying ahead of us and we want to end the season on a positive note, especially for all of the seniors that have given so much to our program," Neu said.
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